Take Me Back!
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A Parallelogram, Bruce Norris' new play at the Taper, is, at least conceptually, a play about time travel.
Well not really time travel more like crossing lines of time - or moments where two different times overlap. The play asks us to imagine Time as a series of parallel lines that extend infinitely in all directions. Now imagine that those parallel lines cross because - as the play tells us - space is infinitely curved. The resulting shape would allow time to cross itself and result in - wait for the title - "A Parallelogram."
Don't worry if this concept isn't entirely clear, it's not really the device the play uses. Instead there's a remote control that allows our protagonist to 'replay' time. Press a button and you can go back to the beginning of a scene. It's a nifty conceit that I'm sure you've seen in at least one movie, right? Who doesn't wish they could go back and replay an embarrassing moment or two a la "Groundhog Day"?
As that film exemplified, time travel stories boil down to fate versus free will. What change can we really affect in the world if we could go back in time?
How you think about this question will really determine whether you find Bruce Norris' play insightful or well . . . unsatisfying.
Mr. Norris, at least in this play, is something of a nihilist. As one of his characters bemoans in act two:
"So what you’re telling me is that every human effort is utterly pointless and meaningless and no one ever learns, or grows, and we’re powerless to change anything of any significance or save anyone so why bother trying in the first place."
Now, I'm not going to waste your time with a bunch of theater history. Suffice it to say, that since Aristotle there's been a line of thought that says plays should be about action: about people trying to do things, trying to change their worlds. Some succeed, most fail but the point is the attempt. In "A Parallelogram", Mr. Norris creates a world where our protagonist isn't really attempting anything.
Without spoiling too much of the story line, a woman in her thirties is suddenly visited, or haunted, by a doppelganger of herself in her seventies. This later self comes 'back from the future' with a device to control time so that she can . . . well, actually it's not all that clear why she comes back. I guess she's bored watching Top Chef - that's sort of what she says.
Our younger protagonist's response to the ability to control time? Well . . . she flashes her tits but really she spends most of the play playing solitaire - a game that's not particularly stage-worthy.
But here's the thing: the Taper audience, at least the day I saw it, seemed to love it. If nothing else, Bruce Norris understands his regional theater audience. And that's more disturbing than any of the two dimensional stereotypes Mr. Norris writes.
What does it say about the American theater that we've come to accept and produce plays that are more empty commentary than startling insight?
Where can I find the remote control to go back in time and change that?